Ep. 72 – The Roles Of An Heir Apparent COO With Shawn Taher

Shawn Taher is the “heir apparent” COO at Taher, Inc. Shawn has had a unique career, starting in the vending industry filling vending machines at Taher, Inc. to becoming a respected Senior Leader. In this episode, Shawn answers the question of, “Is being a COO is dependent on what does your CEO need?” He also shares his insights on keeping focus and sticking to plans and making sure vision meets execution. Shawn discusses gaining skills outside the company, delegating and growing your people. He also reveals why he likes putting his kid to bed late.


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Shawn Taher has had a unique career, starting in the vending industry filling vending machines at Taher, Inc. to becoming a respected leader. Leading his team on the newest initiative, Healthy is the New Cool. With his simple leadership style based on honesty, straightforward communication, coaching leaders to achieve their maximum potential, and giving back to the communities his family serves. Shawn has led teams to earn Taher, Inc.’s largest single vending client, successfully turning around multiple struggling divisions, and with the help of his team, he developed and manufactured a line of fresh food for a 500 plus store chain of convenience stores. Starting in 2005 as a founding Treasurer and eventual Chairman of the Board for the Jack Brewer Foundation, Shawn is an active member of Hospitality Minnesota’s Foundation Board.

In 2012, working together with his brother Trent, created a Thanksgiving initiative that has delivered over 85,000 meals to families in need. Again, in partnership with his brother, Shawn has launched the Real Food Initiative and Real Food Lab, where they plan to continue the journey of educating and engaging kids on where food comes from and how to cook using real foods to combat childhood hunger. Shawn was a keynote speaker at the United Nations sharing Taher’s news and initiatives involving diplomacy through food. Taher is the sole food service partner with the Montessori Model UN. Shawn, you’ve got a cool background. Welcome to the show.

I appreciate it. Thank you.

You’re welcome. I love Minnesota. Strangely, I’ve been there a couple of times speaking. I spoke at the Minneapolis Club twice for two completely different groups. I also spoke at some art gallery.

I assume, the Walker?

Yeah, great people and a great city.

I appreciate it. I’m glad you’ve been here.

Are you from there?

I am. I grew up here, outside of downtown. I spent about eleven years in downtown before getting married and being talked to get a little bit outside of downtown.

I want you to give us a little bit of a background on what Taher is, so we have some perspective of it.

Taher is a contract food service management company. We partner with schools, colleges, corporate buildings, assisted living facilities, and we bring in the full foodservice operation from menu design to writing the recipes, buying the food, and making the food. We often share with people who were good-looking lunch ladies.

Vending machines are just part of what you do then?

Yeah. The vending machine is exactly right. It becomes a support function and most of these locations have vending. We ended up acquiring a company years ago that had vending, so we’re in vending.

You’re doing the full meals and then you’re doing the vending machines. When I was fourteen years old, I had my first job working at our golf club. They had a vending machine in the back room where I used to wash golf clubs. I was a scrawny, skinny little kid and I could get my arm in the bottom drawer and put it up about three layers. All you had to do is spin the dial and I can get whatever chocolate bar I wanted. People say, “I’d like a Hershey’s or a Mars bar.” I could know where it was from taking many at one point. We had an entire old golf bag with all the pockets shoved with chocolate bars in it. The pro at the club kept scratching his head. He couldn’t figure out why he was losing money on the vending and how come we were eating free chocolates. That was my early exposure to the vending machine world.

I can assure you they’ve gotten increasingly crafty on how to get into the machines.

You can see me putting my hand up and then coming out with paint all over. We talked briefly about the COO and you said that it’s a confusing and different role. I’d love to get your thoughts on that.

When I took this role, I did a ton of research as to just what is a COO. What am I supposed to do? Every article I ended up reading or anybody I ever talked to, all had a different answer. The net of it is what does your CEO need? What is he or she strong at and not strong at? What becomes a little bit gray in our case is it’s also a family business. You have this dynamic of an heir apparent also at play. Every single thing we do is being watched in terms of, “Is he also going to be a good future leader in case something happens to Bruce?” He’s my dad. It becomes confusing and it takes a lot of time to figure out what the role is. A lot of questions with my boss to figure out, “What is it you want this to look like? Where do you want to help?” As you probably know with entrepreneurs, some of them have answers and some of them don’t, so you become a phenomenal listener beyond the words and body language to try and essentially make a good guess. My first few months in this role was interesting.

The entrepreneurs change their answers as they go because many of them think out loud. They keep thinking and meander through until they end up in an answer. They almost forget all of their prior meanderings. It’s as if those were private thoughts even though they came out of their mouths. The family business component is interesting as well. I grew up in a family business. There are a whole bunch of questions I want to dive into around that. Did your dad start the business?

Yes. My dad started our business a month after I was born. He quit his job and started with it.

In your whole life, you’ve grown up around the business. There’s a little bit of that dining room talk and kitchen table talk that you learned from osmosis. Did you get dragged into the business? Did you start summer jobs there?

No. We used to own an oriental rug company as well. I started selling oriental rugs when I was young. I was working for quarter tips for hauling a rug out to someone’s car like a fool, then taking that quarter to the railroad track and watch the train run over it. I started there and when I was graduating undergrad, I had looked at a couple of other opportunities and he says, “Why don’t you come here instead of letting some other people kick you around for a while?” I did. I started filling vending machines in the day after I finished undergrad and work my way through from there.

This has been your only career then?


You got to learn from osmosis. By the way, I need to put back on my list to go and do that railroad track with the coin again. I haven’t done that since I was a teenager. Is it bad that I want to take my two boys out and do it with them or should I just give them the idea?

No. I think you should go with them, 100%.

My dad must have taught me. I like doing it with pennies because the copper was softer and it came out nice. It’s shiny. You got involved as a teenager and you started off as a teenager. There were probably some skills that you learned as a team in the business and from college. What were some of the earliest leadership skills or ideas that you carry with you now?

It’s not being shy. That’s been a huge part. You end up with a lot of guts and you don’t fear the rejection nearly as much when you’ve been getting kicked around or reject it on someone who wanted to buy an oriental rug. That was wildly helpful in helping me get to where I am now.

Are you naturally shy or more introverted?

No. I wasn’t even given a chance at being introverted. We were always around either work with people or at the rug warehouse. I don’t think I ever had a chance at trying to be shy.

Did it come out as a new natural trade for you then?

Yeah. Selling rugs in the ‘90s was difficult because we’re selling handmade rugs. These are $5,000, $6,000, $8,000 or $10,000 and the birth of machine-made rugs was going crazy. You’re always asking for the sale on something that’s ten times more expensive than something they could get at a department store.

That totally makes sense when I was telling a friend about a carpet I picked up in Jaipur, India back in 1997. He asked me what the carpet would be worth now and I’m like, “I have no idea.” I spent days looking at carpets and picking them. The one that had the most detail and the most gathers, 225 knots per square inch. You learned a lot about rejection. You weren’t reporting directly to your dad back then. You were in one of the businesses around him, but you saw him operating as a CEO. What did you learn from watching?

I probably learned more after joining full-time in that respect because, at the time, it was still dad, in all sincerity, until I got out of college. I didn’t realize how large he had built this company. When I was growing up, it was just dad and then coming here watching the way he carries himself, the tone of his voice and posture. This sounds silly but pocket squares and lapel pins, how to button and all these little things. When you meet Bruce and you see the network that he has, one of the things you’ll hear all the time from people is, “He’s one of the nicest people ever, super approachable,” and people feel comfortable with him.” Those become his little behaviors that I watched and struggled with in my 20s and early 30s.

You were modeling a charismatic leader. When you joined the company, what do you think your skills are that you’ve pulled through all those years that you’re carrying with now? If you had to nail out the top three traits that are making you into that good COO.

It is planning an organization’s top and large projects. You’d mentioned that we’re earning the largest vending account and implementing that was enormous planning. That’s been the best thing that I’ve been able to carry through into this role.

How do you plan?

Blank Outlook calendars with gold dates, deadlines and then breaking them down as to how we’re going to take a large project into ten small and breaking that out. My team would tell you quite annoyingly, but tons of devil’s advocate questions, “What if this? What if that? Why do you think that?” Oftentimes, people think that I’m being controversial and it’s trying to get ahead of what might happen because it’s easier. I have found that if we do exercise, we’re going to have a higher chance of not having to worry about something when it comes up than if we don’t. I cannot stand firefighting.

Do you think that’s a trait that you picked up from being around an entrepreneur a lot and seeing a lot of the fires that entrepreneurs naturally create?

The entrepreneurial culture creates a lot of, “Go this way. Do not go that way.” That causes confusion and firefighting so I would say yes. Humans need structure. They don’t need to be guided down a cattle call but they need four walls. They need a path.

Have you ever done any personality profiles on yourself? Do you do any of those?

Yes, we use Profile XT.

Have you noticed that your personality profile is different from your dad’s?

I haven’t seen his but I’d be curious to see it.

Ask to see it. We have the COO Alliance. We created that as the only network of its kind in the world for the second-in-command. We had all of our COO members create and do a Kolbe A profile and then we had all of their CEOs do the Kolbe A profile as well. The only thing you learn from Kolbe is how you start projects and most of the entrepreneurs are a high quick start. They start and they plan later. Most of the COOs are either high fact-finders, meaning they ask a lot of questions before they start something or they put the systems in place like a checklist or an SOP before they start something. You’re a prototypical COO where you ask a lot of questions. Once you’ve asked enough then you start. Does that ever drive your dad crazy when you’re asking questions or have you guys had to learn that?

Yes. I would say it does at the same time. I think that he knows why.

He’s learned to respect that.

SIC 72 | Taher, Inc. COO Shawn

Taher, Inc. COO Shawn: Some entrepreneurs have answers, some don’t. You have to be a phenomenal listener and go beyond the words and body language to try and make a good guess about which one you’re talking to.


One of the things that have been successful at least for me in this role in the last few months is as you would expect and as described, he laid out a rough vision of what he expected us to do. That didn’t go anywhere. A few months later, if nothing else frustrated with the fact that we’ve got to move the needle, I took the time. I spend a lot of time in hotels pulling a few super late nights. If not all night, just guide all of that tied into one vision, one action plan, one thing, and then paint the picture as to what life looks like in twelve months. I was able to deliver that to him over breakfast at the Minneapolis Club and he was all in and I’m like, “Really?”

That’s when it happens when vision meets execution. They can have a conversation because vision can sit long enough to look at what execution’s plan is and you’ve probably been able to do it in a succinct one-pager like an executive summary style plan. If you give him the rest of all the information you’ve got in your head about all the facts finding, that will overwhelm them.

My original one was nineteen-pages that I put together while on the road and I’m like, “This isn’t going to work.”

That’s where you identified something. I don’t know if you know that you’ve done it. One of the core best traits of a great COO is the ability to ask the questions, come up with the plans, create the models, and then present it to the CEO. In a way that the CEO can quickly get it and can trust that you’ve done the rest of the work so that they don’t need to ask it and then they say, “Go execute.” How do you sign off on Bruce? Do you call him Bruce at work?

I do.

Do you ever slip and call him dad or it naturally becomes Bruce?

It naturally becomes Bruce and I don’t know that it causes slipping to come down. Sometimes, I do call him dad, but mostly, intentionally. If I need to humanize something like, “Dad, pump the brakes here.”

My brother bought my dad’s company several years ago. My brother came in to help him start running it and then bought it. My dad left and my brother would call my dad, John, all the time. My brother said the same thing. If my dad was ever getting angry, he’d be like, “Hey, dad.” That would soften them down but it was weird. We’d be at the cottage having a beer at your 9:00 on a summer night and my brother would call my dad and we’re like, “What?”

I can appreciate that.

You have got a special relationship as father and son but there’s also a lot of stress there that happens in the normal CEO and COO. How do you navigate it as CEO and COO? How do you navigate that dynamic family side? Do you have any lessons on that?

The dynamic between the CEO and COO is always to remember that it is work. You still have to execute because regardless of the heir apparent, regardless of my name, and regardless of any of that for a minute, if I don’t execute as a COO and as a leader, I’m dead on arrival. I have to stay laser-focused on sticking to our plan and thinking through our plans. I have to stay on that path and that helps the dynamic a lot and a lot of communicating up. Some would probably call not that much but it’s certainly a lot compared to what I may have ever in the past. As a younger leader, I was cavalier and said, “Screw you all. I know what I’m doing. Leave me alone.” I’ve quickly found that to your comment a little bit ago. They like to know that you’re listening to what they’re trying to accomplish and building that trust so that you can later not have to go for everything.

How do you communicate up?

A variety of ways but there are two most common ways. One is, if I want to talk about a set of things, I’ll send them an email that says, “Here’s what’s on my list and here’s a little bit of detail about that.” That is not blindsided. One thing with Bruce is no blindsiding. My dad emigrated from the Middle East and started this with nothing. He doesn’t want to be blindsided. He’s found tremendous success and being able to control it all and now, he’s looking to trust others. You cannot blindside him and you’ll go too far backward. Giving them a heads-up and some specifics about that, then always leaving room for their opinion. Go as far as frankly ask for it, “Here’s where my head is at. I’m curious about what you think. What am I missing? What am I not seeing?” Here’s why I think what I think but let’s beat this round. At least I found out that he loves being able to have input.

Your dad, would he be 60?

He’s a classic Baby Boomer and beginning of the baby boom. Is he still, “It’s my way or the highway?”

No, but that’s a new behavior.

He has had to learn about them?

Yeah. As a family, although we’re not engaged like a consultant or somebody to that effect, we’re all mindful of transition and communication. Individually, between my brother, my dad and myself, we’re all trying to make sure that we’re treating each other the way that we need to so that we don’t have these colossal arguments. That’s the blend. When does work stop and family begin? There’s definitely not a clear answer to that question.

You’ve got to work hard on those boundaries.

My wife had our daughter in 2018 and that’s been one of the most interesting and impactful things to the family versus work dynamic. As a family, we do brunch on Sundays a lot and a selfie there, it’s just my dad being a grandfather, a dad, and he loves it. Rather than being a mix of many staff meetings before the staff meeting.

You still got that blend out which is good, too. I’ve spent a lot of time in Vancouver, Canada. We’ve got a big Middle Easterner. Are you Persian or Iranian?

Yeah. My dad was born and raised in Iran.

Do you speak Farsi?

After a couple of good drinks, I get better.

It’s cool to have that culture still. It’s good. It’s a male-dominated culture over there as well but he’s been over here forever. Has he gotten rid of the dress code of the whole 1980s Dress for Success?

It’s interesting because I was thinking about this. One time, I had dinner with my dad before he went back to Iran. You can imagine something we try and do any time we travel overseas. You never know. Prior to you going, what are a couple of coaching things you would give me? I’m not joking. One of his was, “You could wear a sport coat and you can wear a suit a little more often.” Of all the options on the table, that’s the one so I went and had a few suits made and now I wear a jacket.

It’s fine wearing a sports coat but he doesn’t wear a tie anymore, does he?


That’s fine. I did that. He’s at least modernized enough when you think that IBM band tie in 1989. It’s been hard for a lot of those early Baby Boomers to lecture.

A lot of our mid-management and senior management team who are in that same Baby Boomer mix, I can’t imagine it without a tie. We still work in schools and school administrators still wear suits and ties a lot.

It’s so weird. I had to spend some time at the school board and they were all wearing shirts and ties on the guys. I feel bad for you. They suck. When you were doing your digging around understanding the role of the COO, did you come from the Harvard article that misunderstood the role?

100%. It’s one of the better ones out there.

You are the heir apparent. That’s a hard roll to navigate when you have other senior managers who have been there for longer and who want to move up in the company, too, because it’s their career. How do you navigate that?

I struggle with that one as much because the growth of the organization is to have growth for all of them. One of the projects that I’m doing is to restructure and reorganize our operating reporting. People that have been titled as a VP, but haven’t necessarily been able to operate as such, we’re moving that so they can fit into that roller or skillset that they’re great at. Who knows as to why we hadn’t done it in the past? It does help me get a win, frankly.

What you’re showing is that you are going to grow the organization, but you’re also going to try to keep growing all the people as well and it’s also showing them their path.

It’s hugely showing them their path. One of the things that we do every year is we have a Summer Conference. We brought 380 chefs and foodservice directors to town for five days. We have our own farm as well. All the chefs spent two days out at the farm making food for all of their food service director peers. It’s like a family gathering. Our theme has reignited the human side and invest in each other. The whole premise was we’ve got to stop treating each other like kings and pawns. We’ve got to invest the time with the people and we have to give them the path. We have to take the time and say, “Cameron, you’re doing a great job. These are three paths that I see possible for you. Do you like any of those? I do. Let’s invest in that path.”

When your father goes back to Iran, you go for dinner because you always know what can happen when you’re struggling. You’re investing in that human relationship. Do you do that with your team? Do you know them as humans when you know that the leaders are humans and people?

I do. Out of the 380 people that were here, I could tell you 350 of their names. I could tell you when you’re there.

It’s more than that. I have a feeling because it’s probably the Midwest values. You probably know them as people more than that. You know their insecurities, their fears, their passions, their joys, and what they’re into.

We don’t use this to all but we refer to it with some regularity. Harvey Mackay had that Mackay 66 that he rolled out for 50 years, but we at least refer to it as a talking point if nothing else to what you’re sharing. Do you do anything about them? Could you answer any of those questions if I handed you that document? Is it important?

Have you met Harvey?

I have, decently well.

He’s a good dude.

He’s a good dude. I grew up about ten minutes from where he lives in the same school district. One of his business partners’ son and I graduated from high school together.

I was invited to speak at Harvey’s roundtable. He’s got about 30 CEOs that run some cool companies. Some big names and they pay $250,000 or $150,000. It’s a lot. I might be off by $100,000 but it’s either a $150,000 or $250,000 for a couple of years. At the roundtable, they sit, they brainstorm, they meet and they talk through issues. It’s a mastermind but at a high level. I was invited to go speak at it and spend two days with him at dinner and then in the morning. A friend of mine, Connor Blakly, this young kid who’s eighteen but I’ve been mentoring since he was fifteen has become good friends with Harvey. He got me to go for breakfast with Harvey in the morning. It was Harvey, myself, Connor, and this other young eighteen-year-old and Harvey gave us a two-hour download.

SIC 72 | Taher, Inc. COO Shawn

Taher, Inc. COO Shawn: To avoid blindsiding when you want to communicate something to the CEO, send an email beforehand that lists and gives detail on what’s on your mind then leave room for his or her opinion.


That is awesome. Do you know Earl Bakken?


He’s the founder of Medtronic. His son is one of my dad’s close friends. I was a part of one of these emerging leader programs and he made a one-hour lunch with twelve of us young leaders. It becomes one of those one-hour times where you’re like, “Holy crap,” that was the best hour I’m going to have all year.

In your role as COO, where have you continued to gain skills outside the company? Forget about the learning you learn inside, but where have you gotten yourself?

I train for half Ironmans and it is phenomenal to me how much I learned in that process. When you race, you can’t have music so you just as well trained without it. There’s this huge game that goes on in your head all the time. You’re telling yourself to, “Breathe. Get to the next one. Close your eyes.” It’s nonstop and that honestly has been so enormous for me. My natural personality isn’t to breathe. It’s to pounce sometimes, frankly. That has been enormous. There isn’t a huge network of COOs out there. Those that are out there are slammed. Trying to talk to a couple of friends here, there and get some but I read a lot. I read John Kotter a lot probably more than I read anything. Aubrey Daniels, I read a decent amount. I read a fair amount that helps with the mindsets. I read in a book because I write in the book non-stop.

I’m the same. I’ve written five books that are all in Amazon, Audible and iTunes but I don’t understand why someone would only listen to the book. I certainly don’t understand why they would ever read it on Kindle. I like the hard copy of the book and often, I’ll listen to it at the same time so that I can get through it faster and it helps my ADD. I’m scribbling notes in it, I’ll press pause and scribble notes and highlight. Then at the back of the book, I make my list of almost action items from the book. I try to put the stuff in place. Often, people just read books and they don’t do anything with it.

I love the theory of reading on my iPad, but I hate that with all the technology they have, I can’t write in the ledger. It makes no sense to me.

It’s disappeared. Kindles are great for reading for fun but not business books. Your leadership team and your dad, how do you stay on the same page? Does your dad control vision now or are you largely starting to control some of that, too?

We are at the beginning of a transition. The trick is that I have to make sure I don’t get out in front of my skis and start trying to take it all to my vision.

That is the strangest analogy for a guy from the Midwest in Minnesota to use a skiing analogy.

We grew up skiing every weekend.

Did you? Where did you go?

Like Trollhaugen and Welch Village. We have these deals. It’s perfect for parents. They drop their kids off at 7:00 in the morning on Saturday and they go off. Parents are like, “See you.”

I grew up in Northern Ontario and we had T-bars.

That’s the balance. It’s trying to make sure that I still am focused on the things that I know. He wants to make sure that we’ve accomplished. What I’ve done to try and have some latitude is we have other businesses in food manufacturing from baking to fresh food to microwavable meals. That allows me a lot of latitude to try and control some of my own vision because the value is that it plays into our own business. We sell to ourselves, we innovate, and we use all of our chefs to innovate. That helps but I’m able to go sell to outside companies. That is different than our normal business. I get a lot of runways.

You are a privately held company, but you’re in the nine figures. You’re well over the $100 million mark in revenue and you’ve got employees all over the place. How many states are you operating in?

We’re at 22 States with 3,200 employees.

There’s some perspective. It’s 22 States, 3,200 employees over $100 million in revenue in lots of business lines that are different. How do you have a life? How do you not get sucked into the day-to-day of all this stuff? How do you manage your time?

Unsuccessfully is probably the best answer. I do have a tolerant wife. Having a child has been a huge part because I want to go home. I’m out early and I’m probably home by 7:00 and Sophie doesn’t go to bed until 8:00. For all the parents that are reading this, don’t judge if we put our baby to bed late. It just what it is. That way, at least, I get to see her.

How old is she?

She’s turning one.

The baby will be fine going to bed at 8:00. They’re going to sleep when they’re tired.

Travel helps because if I’m in a hotel, I can work as late as I want without feeling overly guilty. That’s probably the part that I struggle the most with this. My wife has to bear the brunt of this whole adventure.

It sounds like project planning than it is a component of projects and calendars. Have you been delegating?

Mildly. I’m great when we know we have strengthened the team. We were hiring three new positions and one position to fill my former VP role. I need to be able to delegate too more of that. I don’t delegate out of desire. I prefer to have people that we can trust, build on and grow. That’s more fun than me chasing it all.

You’re talking about growing people. How are you growing people?

Shoulder-to-shoulder time, honest conversation and reinforcement. This goes back to what I shared with you about reading Aubrey Daniel’s great book on Bringing Out the Best in People. I read it all the time because I always need help with it. Between positive reinforcement and try and understand the punishment of peace because it’s got to be still productive. There’s a lot of it in that. Giving them some latitude to make some decisions align, to make that mistake and not beat them up, and then trying to use this devil’s advocate approach to ask a lot of questions after the fact. Sometimes, I get accused of being a Monday morning quarterback and that’s fair. I am asking you questions that didn’t pan outright, but we still got to figure out how would we have done them differently because I still want you to plan for the next time and I want you to remember this. It doesn’t mean it will happen exactly but at least let’s be conscious of it.

That’s when I helped build a company years ago called College Pro Painters.

I’ve worked for College Pro Painters.

You’re kidding.

No. It was a College Pro Painter franchisee maybe.

When was this?

Summer of 2001 to 2002.

Brian Honeyman would have been long gone. Bryan ran the Midwest.

Caleb ran the Midwest at the time.

I was a College Pro franchisee in ‘86, ‘87 and ‘88. For a few years, I was a general manager and I also hired Kimbal Musk who is Elon’s brother.

Now, he’s got the restaurants.

Kimbal was a franchisee of mine in ‘93 as was his cousin Peter Rive who was the COO at SolarCity. They were both franchisees for me in Toronto. I hired them and trained them. I was texting Greig Clark, who started College Pro in 1971. Greg and I still text each other and one time, some random dude heard one of my podcast episodes and he said, “I worked for College Pro as a painter in 1974.” He goes to Thunder Bay. I’m like, “That was the city it started in.” We learned College Pro has been huge.

It was big. I had an unproductive general manager. I have a strong personality and I don’t think that this guy had a clue what to do with it. We’d have that planning session on Sundays and this guy would let me bulldoze all over them. As a result, I had no planning skills. I did awful at College Pro. There was this huge disconnect in my head between being the guy who was the owner and franchisee and getting on the ladder with these guys. I never had the structure right back. I never had anybody bring the structure and the discipline forward to help me fix that. It went bad. It’s taken 10.5 years for me to figure out how to learn from that. I wish it had gone better but it still was valuable.

I’m glad it was valuable. I’m making a ton of money as a franchisee. My brothers were both franchisees after me. My sister is a general manager as well. I am still to this day. That’s how I built 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. I took all of my College Pro Painter skills and I was a COO when he got 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and put it in place there. It was simple.

Putting up the signs, flyering and cold calling.

Hiring people, training people, running operations and production, time management, customer, sales, marketing, and having to wake up in the morning and recruit people even though you didn’t have the revenue to pay them yet.

You’re getting that payroll out $1,250. I’ll never forget that $1,250 overnight fee in my whole life.

You fit the prototypical franchisee as well. You’ve got a strong character. We hired franchisees that are strong in leadership, strong entertainment which is goal orientation, and strong tenacity which would be completely you. Those would be the three big strengths. We also want people that were introspective. People would look at their own contribution to problems. You would rank high in the interviews for the franchisee. It’s probably why you’re running Ironman triathlons and half travel. I got those three traits.

I have high regard for College Pro and for anybody who is even thinking about it. You should at least go to the interview. You can make a crapload of money if you do it.

In 1986, I made $22,000 profit in four months. Now, $22,000 is a lot of money for university to get the bank, but in ’86, I was going to great restaurants. I was unfortunately too dorky to be dating all the cute girls even though I had the cash.

I’m not good-looking either so don’t worry. You’re in good company.

SIC 72 | Taher, Inc. COO Shawn

Taher, Inc. COO Shawn: As a leader, you need to have shoulder-to-shoulder time, honest conversation, and reinforcement to grow your people.


Before, I have a voice for radio or a face for radio. If you were to give yourself one tip and if you were to look back to the twenty-year-old College Pro franchisee or the 21-year-old starting out in leadership, what advice would you give yourself back then that you now know to be true?

Listen and stop backing cavalier. My general manager at College Pro wasn’t the best guy ever, but he was trying to help. When I started to talk to her, particularly for people like my own dad and a couple of others here, they still know. It’s hard when you’re young, goal-oriented, driven, and you want to conquer the world to realize that there’s much knowledge out there. Sometimes, you’ve got to shut up, listen and ask a lot of questions.

It’s an old saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth.” We need to use it with that ratio. I am guilty of that, too. I’m always excited to jump in but sometimes it’s interesting. Shawn Taher, thank you for sharing. That was awesome. I’m glad we uncovered that College Pro at the end. That was funny. Thanks for joining us on the show.

My pleasure.

I appreciate it.


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About Shawn Taher

SIC 72 | Taher, Inc. COO Shawn

Shawn has had a unique career, starting in the vending industry filling vending machines at Taher, Inc. to becoming a respected Senior Leader. Leading his team on his newest initiative “Healthy is the New Cool”. With his simple leadership style based on honesty, straight-forward communication, coaching leaders to achieve their maximum potential and giving back to the communities his family serves. Shawn has led teams to earn Taher, Inc’s largest single vending client, successfully turning around multiple struggling divisions, and most recently with the help of his team developed & manufacture a line of fresh food for a 500+ store chain Convenience Store company. 

Starting in 2005 as the founding Treasurer and eventual Chairman of the Board for the Jack Brewer Foundation, Shawn is an active member of Hospitality Minnesota’s Foundation Board. In 2012, working together with brother Trent, created a Thanksgiving initiative that has delivered over 85,000 meals to families in need. Most recently, again in partnership with his brother, Shawn has launched the Real Food Initiative® & Real Food Lab® where they plan to continue the journey of educating and engaging kids on where food comes from and how to cook using real foods to combat childhood hunger. 

Shawn was recently a keynote speaker at the United Nations sharing Taher’s views and initiatives involving Diplomacy through Food. Taher is the sole Foodservice partner with the Montessori Model UN. 


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